Monday, March 13, 2006

Mind control a reality..

I would like to draw your attention to a horrific fact of life. Ever watched the movie Alien and thought to your self, that scenes of the creature entering into peoples bodies doesn’t really happen? It is after all make belief right? What kind of creature in this world would enter inside your body, control you like a mindless zombie, and then only to hatch from you, using your body for nutrition while you die in agony.

Carl Zimmer has made the following observation about a humble wasp (not referring to white anglo- you get my drift). Its name: Ampulex Compressa. Its victim, not human, but a roach

The following is what Zimmer has to say:

As an adult, Ampulex compressa seems like your normal wasp, buzzing about and mating. But things get weird when it's time for a female to lay an egg. She finds a cockroach to make her egg's host, and proceeds to deliver two precise stings. The first she delivers to the roach's mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head.

The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently uses sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash.

The zombie roach crawls where its master leads, which turns out to be the wasp's burrow. The roach creeps obediently into the burrow and sits there quietly, while the wasp plugs up the burrow with pebbles. Now the wasp turns to the roach once more and lays an egg on its underside. The roach does not resist. The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes.

The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to weave itself a cocoon--which it makes within the roach as well. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its cocoon, and out of the roach as well. Seeing a full-grown wasp crawl out of a roach suddenly makes those Alien movies look pretty derivative.

I find this wasp fascinating for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it represents an evolutionary transition. Over and over again, free-living organisms have become parasites, adapting to hosts with exquisite precision. If you consider a full-blown parasite, it can be hard to conceive of how it could have evolved from anything else. Ampulex offers some clues, because it exists in between the free-living and parasitic worlds.

Amuplex is not technically a parasite, but something known as an exoparasitoid. In other words, a free-living adult lays an egg outside a host, and then the larva crawls into the host. One could easily imagine the ancestors of Ampulex as wasps that laid their eggs near dead insects--as some species do today. These corpse-feeding ancestors then evolved into wasps that attacked living hosts. Likewise, it's not hard to envision an Ampulex-like wasp evolving into full-blown parasitoids that inject their eggs directly into their hosts, as many species do today.

And then there's the sting. Ampulex does not want to kill cockroaches. It doesn't even want to paralyze them the way spiders and snakes do, since it is too small to drag a big paralyzed roach into its burrow. So instead it just delicately retools the roach's neural network to take away its motivation. Its venom does more than make roaches zombies. It also alters their metabolism, so that their intake of oxygen drops by a third. The Israeli researchers found that they could also drop oxygen consumption in cockroaches by injecting paralyzing drugs or by removing the neurons that the wasps disable with their sting. But they can manage only a crude imitation; the manipulated cockroaches quickly dehydrated and were dead within six days. The wasp venom somehow puts the roaches into suspended animation while keeping them in good health, even as a wasp larva is devouring it from the inside

Scientists don't yet understand how Ampulex manages either of these feats. Part of the reason for their ignorance is the fact that scientists have much left to learn about nervous systems and metabolism. But millions of years of natural selection has allowed Ampulex to reverse engineer its host. We would do well to follow its lead, and gain the wisdom of parasites.
My next article is about a human equivalent of the Ampulex Compressa: the politician. I shall expore this "creature" in the context of a recent seminar that addressed the issues of undermining the federal constitution of Malaysia.


Steph said...

"Insects" is just not my kinda thing. But at least, for once I know that there's this creature which will help to make my world a better place.Except that, if ONLY they would kill roaches and swallow em' right away. SIX days??!! SIX days is WAY too long!!!

Cool paradigm to relate to your upcoming entry. I'm curious to find out the relation:).

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Parasitic relationships, biological and psychological, fascinate me too. Can't wait for your next post!

mythsn_legends said...

Wow.....fascinating article on the ampulex compressa! A bit scary though...... :P

define_me said...

Okay...all I have to say is...this insect is COOL! I've just added it to my list of fun things to read about.

astrorat said...

Dear steph,

haha.. 6 days too long? :) there’s a faster way.. take a news paper, roll it, and slam the roach really hard and fast until you hear a *squish*

Dear dr. d,
cant wait to write the next one! :)

Dear mythsn_legends,
you wana try your own roach experiment?

Dear define_me,
:) it is a really cool insect! wonder what else can it do!

Anonymous said...

I'm in awe, a little disgusted, and a little impressed by this pint sized critter (insect - to be precise)... *sigh* i really think some people i know should fall under this category - because all they seem to be able to do is feed off of you... *shudders*

Other than that - we can always count on you to entertin us in the darkest of times...


Carolina Introvert said...

I love it when I learn something. I honestly did not know this insect trivia.

I visitied Malaysia for the first time last week, on a business trip. I loved it! I made some new friends who were delighted to show me their city (Penang). I will be going back 2 or 3 times a year and can't wait.

astrorat said...

Dear tippy,
i can think of at least 3 people whom i would like to control! ;)

Dear carolina introvert,

thanks for taking the time to stop by this site. Its a pleasure to bring such trivia to my friends. Next time you are in KL, do remember to contact Astrorat :)


Wei Wei said...

I believe the story behind Alien was inspired by these insects, as with many other shows. Parasitism is really common for invertebrates anyway and most of us would have had "guests" in our bodies at one point of our lives. The point is, what you don't know doesn't hurt...hahaha...

astrorat said...

Dear Wei Wei,

Thats a really scary thought.. *shivers*